MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ bid to repeal the battleground state’s dormant abortion ban was headed toward defeat Wednesday, as Republican senators convened and immediately adjourned a special session without taking any action.
Wisconsin adopted a ban on abortion except to save the mother's life in 1849, a year after the territory became a state. The U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that essentially legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 nullified the ban.
The court is expected to rule this month in a case that could end Roe v. Wade, which would allow Wisconsin's ban to take effect. Senators had to meet after Evers called the Legislature into special session earlier this month, but they were not required to vote on the issue.
Republicans have blasted the move as a political stunt designed to please the Democratic base as Evers faces reelection in November. GOP leaders in the Assembly also planned to gavel in to start the special session and then end it by gaveling out immediately.
Senate President Chris Kapenga gaveled in and out in 14 seconds just after noon in front of seven Democratic senators. Sen. Tim Carpenter shouted “Objection!” to no avail as Kapenga rapped the gavel. Kapenga then walked off the floor without a word.
Kapenga issued a statement about 25 minutes later calling the special session a “disingenuous political stunt.”
“The United States Supreme Court has yet to issue their opinion, yet the Governor called a Special Session,” Kapenga said. “This is nothing more than a calculated campaign move and the exact reason why the Legislature isn't in session during campaign season."
The two-year legislative session ended in March. The next regular session doesn't begin until January.
It wasn't clear when Assembly Republicans would come to the floor, but it doesn't matter since the Senate adjourned. Nothing can get done without approval from both houses.
Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Greta Neubauer and Senate Democratic Minority Leader Janet Bewley called for bipartisan cooperation to protect abortion access in Wisconsin and pledged to fight for new legislation.
“No matter what happens in the coming days, we are not backing down," Neubauer said at a news conference ahead of the session. "Our movement has been building for decades, and now is our most important moment. We are at a crossroads in Wisconsin.”
Dozens of people gathered in the Capitol rotunda before Republican leaders took the floor in the Assembly and Senate to protest the looming Supreme Court decision and the GOP’s plans to end the special session without taking any action. Many in the crowd were women.
They wore pink T-shirts that read “I Stand With Planned Parenthood” and “Bans Off Our Bodies.” They held signs that read “The GOP Wants To Party Like It’s 1849” and “Abortion Is Health Care,” and they shouted chants of “Not the church, not the state, only we decide our fate!”
Officials with the state Department of Administration, which oversees the Capitol police, didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking an estimate on the number of people in the crowd.
The state ban will likely be challenged in court should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
One major question is how the ban would interact with a related state law passed in 1985 that prohibits abortions after the fetus has reached viability but has an exemption for women whose health could be endangered by continuing the pregnancy. Abortion-rights groups have argued for a broad interpretation of that exemption to include a woman’s emotional and mental health.
Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, has said he thinks the 1849 law is too old to enforce. He has also said he will not investigate or prosecute doctors who perform abortions if the old law does take effect again.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, which operates three clinics that provide abortions in the state, has stopped scheduling procedures beyond June 25 in anticipation of the Supreme Court decision. Other abortion clinics across the country also have halted scheduling.
The special session came six weeks after the Madison office of the anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action was vandalized. Police have yet to arrest anyone.
Tim Michels, a Republican candidate for governor endorsed by former President Donald Trump, this week called on Evers to put the Wisconsin National Guard on notice for similar acts and prepare for “impending acts of mass civil disobedience” if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
Associated Press writer Harm Venhuizen contributed to this report. He is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/HarmVenhuizen
Todd Richmond, The Associated Press